With his pronouncement that the politics and the two major parties are “broken,” we see the tack Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is going to take in his independent campaign for the U.S. Senate: he is going to try to identify himself with the vast swathe of Americans who despise and distrust both parties. The Republican recovery is happening mainly because their is no other alternative to Democratic excess. Given a viable alternative or another Republican failure, the angry independent might turn elsewhere.
In 2006, we saw it when Joe Lieberman won election to the Senate as an independent after a wealthy liberal bested him in the Democratic primary. This year, Lincoln Chafee is running for governor of Rhode Island as an independent. He may well win. Independent Tim Cahill has already overtaken the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts in at least one poll. Michael Bloomberg left the Republican Party (having already left the Democratic Party) and won re-election as an independent. The time is right for a Ross Perot who sounds less like the crazy aunt in the basement.
The trouble is that Crist’s move is redolent of Arlen Specter’s party switch: His independence is inextricably tied to his ambition apart from any high principle. Crist isn’t terribly conservative, but he isn’t a Chafee or a Bloomberg who repeatedly complained that the GOP was moving too far to the right. He was not a Lieberman or a Cahill worried about his party being captured by the far left. He is a guy who has run for lots of offices, may have decided to run for one too many, who is doing what he thinks he needs to do to win at all costs.
Specter is a useful comparison. Specter’s party switch definitely improved his chances: After his vote for the stimulus, he could not have won the Republican primary. He still must be favored to win the Democratic primary and still stands some chance in the general. But ultimately, Specter’s unprincipled defection has made him look ridiculous. This is likely to come back to haunt him in November. Charlie Crist’s declarations that he would remain a Republican are recent, they are multiple, they are emphatic — and they are easily reproduced in an era of YouTube. Once heavily replayed, Crist is not going to look like the repair man showing up to fix our broken politics.
The trouble, as David points out, is that Crist is like too many career politicians: He wants to be around forever. Florida voters may decide they want a more temporary relationship with him.
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